Wednesday, March 16, 2011

TURNING MY BACK ON BASEBALL

I was raised on baseball.  My dad loved the game and still does but he never discouraged any of his kids not to try other sports.  After eight to ten years of life being spent either in a baseball stadium or on a baseball field a person gets the urge to try something different or rebel against it.  I decided to rebel against baseball.  Still there was that seed deep inside of me that still loved the game but I decided to refuse to recognize it.

My savior in finding something besides baseball to occupy my time came in the unlikely package of one Jay D. Allard.  Mr. Allard was a man that loved kids and loved sports and he did everything he could to promote both.  He started his own Athletic Club in south Kansas City and began picking kids to play for him from the schools he taught in.  He ran a small league of baseball teams, had an older team that traveled to different rural areas to play baseball against the local kids.  He had a girls softball team that was actually pretty good even though my sister Elaine played on the team.  He put together a football team for the guys and had a basketball team for the girls.  It was this girls basketball team that allowed me to escape from baseball.

My sister Elaine played for Mr. Allards basketball team.  Apparently she either really loved it or she needed a lot of practice because it wasn't long before my dad had built a backboard and bought a rim and put it up over the garage at the house for Elaine to practice.  I am not sure how much Elaine liked basketball because she didn't seem to take advantage of the goal over the garage so I began to take the basketball out and teach myself how to play.  I would play imaginary games against myself shooting from around fifteen feet on the first shot and rushing to the ball if I missed to set it in from short range.

The learning to play basketball had its price for my parents however.  The garage door had three windows in it and those windows were directly under the basketball goal.  You can see where this is going I am sure.  It didn't take long to break out one of the windows by missing a shot.  After that window was replaced another window would fall victim to the orange meteor that took some wild projections at times.  My dad was no dummy and it didn't take him long to figure out a way to save his garage.  He would surrender.  He took the glass out of the garage windows and replaced them with sheets of aluminum.  This took the pressure off of his pocket book and took the pressure off of me from trying not to break any windows.  The living room windows were not far from from the hoop but far enough away not to get into the line of fire too often.

I started spending a lot of time out in the driveway learning to shoot and to dribble.  After my chores were done I would often go out to shoot the ball if dad was watching baseball on the television.  My summer Saturdays became a time to shoot and practice instead of watching the game of the week.  Pretty soon I began to get to be a fairly decent player.  Baseball was slowly drifting off into the back side of my mind and was being replaced by basketball.  I started watching the Big Eight college games on Saturday afternoon during the winter.  Then when spring would come, I would return to spending most of my time out in the driveway again.  Soon both sides of the driveway had turned from grass into dirt as I started to expand my angle of attack on the orange goal.

I first played organized basketball in the fifth grade when I stayed to play intramural basketball at Symington School.  The games were not pretty as most of us were only four foot tall or so and the scores stayed low.  I played at Symington again my sixth grade year and it was here that I think my dad took the hint that maybe his eldest son wasn't so much a baseball player.  This is where I give dad credit.  He took me to the Big Eight holdiay tournament a few years and allowed me to see those huge college kids play ball.  He sat through it even though I am certain he really didn't care about basketball that much.

Then the Cincinnati Royals moved to Kansas City and became the Kings.  I tried to see the Kings every chance I could and even bought partial season tickets a couple of years.  One final gesture dad made to support my new love of basketball was to buy me a couple of tickets to go see Dr. J play the Kings one night.  I had never seen anyone jump the way the Dr could.  It was a wonderful night and one that if I never thanked dad for, I will thank him here.

I had played intramural basketball again in my seventh grade year and had made the Smith-Hale basketball team both my eighth and ninth grade years.  Most of the games were early afternoon so nobody really came to watch me play but I was okay with that.  I was falling in love with the game.

The years went by and I continued to love basketball and rebel against baseball.  I would go to a game once in a while at the stadium but for the most part my athletic focus was on basketball.  People at work would ask me about the Royals and I didn't have a clue as to how they were doing.  I really didn't care.  So I decided the best way to deflect questions about baseball was to pick another team and so I became a Chicago Cubs fan.  They never went to the playoffs and always lost more games then they won until the year I became one of their fans.  They started winning and I actually started watching the closing innings of weekday games when I got home from work.  Baseball was slipping back into my life.  Then Brett joined the family.

When Brett was two years old for some reason I went and bought him a wiffle ball and bat.  It wasn't the huge red bats with the softball size wiffle ball but rather the pro set which had a skinny little yellow bat and a wiffle ball the size of a baseball.  I think I was figuring that if I wanted him to develop good coordination then this would be the easiest and best way to do it. So my son and I began spending nice days in the back yard learning to hit that ball with that skinny bat.  He was a fast learner.  He learned to hit and to throw by the age of four.  He had such a level swing that when he joined a t-ball league he seldom hit the ball  into the outfield.  That was okay though.  That level swing would pay off as he grew older.

Pretty soon it became apparent that Brett was a natural baseball player.  He played second base consistently and had a good glove.  While he did not hit with a lot of power he always found a way to hit the ball into play.  He had a good eye as well and seldom struck out.  Yes, it appeared that I had raised myself a baseball player.  I had accomplished with Brett what my dad had wanted to accomplish with me.  Brett played baseball until he was seventeen.  He would play in a spring league, then play another season in two summer leagues then close out the year in a fall league.  I was spending more time at a baseball field then I ever dreamed I would.


Brett did play basketball his freshman and sophomore years of high school but I think he did that just to fill time until baseball season would roll around again.  He looked comfortable in a baseball uniform.  He looked relaxed at the plate and sure handed in the field.  And I sat at every game I could and discovered that I could not shake the love of the game that my dad had planted in me since I was just a tiny kid.

We began watching baseball together on Saturdays and watching the Royals during the week.  I found myself making trips out to the stadium several times a year again, just like I use to do with dad.  Slowly baseball had come to be a focus of my summers again and I found that even though I had tried to turn my back on baseball, my fathers game, it never left my soul.

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